God’s Own Country Kerala has always been known for his Royalty and Palaces just like the rest of India. These enchanting Palaces itself speaks about the royal era of Kerala. Some of these Palaces were built in typical Kerala style of architecture while the others have a colonial influence. These Palaces nowadays have become prominent attractions of Kerala tourism. There are many palaces in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Kochi, Alleppey and Kollam. A visit to these historic monuments are worth your time.
1. Kowdiar Palace
Image Courtesy: Department of Archaeology
One of the most beautiful and grandest palaces in Kerala is the Kowdiar Palace.The Kowdiar Palace is the official home of the Travancore Royal Family. It is located in Thiruvananthapuram and was built in 1934 by the late Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal Sethu Parvathi Bayi’s son for the wedding of his sister Maharani Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi to Lt. Col. G. V. Raja. The estates and properties of the royal family were partitioned and divided equally among the branches of the two Travancore Queens, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and Sethu Parvathi Bayi after the Constitutional Amendment of 1971. The heirs of Sethu Parvathi Bayi currently live at the Kowdiar Palace as it was her son Maharajah Sree Chithira Thirunal who built this grand Palace.. The majestic Kowdiar Palace owes its distinct name in history to the rulers of Travancore who were great patrons of art and architecture.
This Palace is the perfect example of Kerala style architecture. Situated in the heart of Trivandrum, this palace has over 150 rooms, 3 stories, 6 steeples and a wooden lift. The Kowdiar palace is restricted for tourists for it is the personal residence of the members of the Travancore family. Their family get-togethers are conducted here and antic belongings of the Travancore family are also exhibited here. Raja Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma the last Raja of the Travancore Royal Family is buried in the palace’s beautiful garden.
2. Kanakakunnu Palace
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The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage has listed the Kanakakunnu Palace as a heritage monument. First it was a venue for stately functions of the royal family of Travancore, but now it has become a place of holding various types of events from marriage functions to cultural events and people even come here to relax and laze in its green gardens. It was during the reign of King Sree Mulam Tirunal (1885-1924), the Kanakakunnu Palace was built and it was built as a meeting place for royal banquets. This Palace is situated in the heart of Trivandrum city.
The magnificent structure with its landscaped meadows looks like the jewel on the crest of a hillock lush and its bamboo thickets and flowering shrubs have, over the years, become the city dwellers and tourists’ favourite destination. It was first opened in the 1960s to the public as a venue for weddings. Now, various events are held in its glorious halls. In the span of time, the palace has transformed into a venue of choice for holding government-sponsored and other cultural programs.
The Kanakakunnu Palace has been built in the new British Era model. All the necessary modern amenities and equipment can be found inside this beautiful Palace. This Palace is built on a small citadel above the ground level. It is a single storied building and is situated in a vast pasture land. Inside this palace also there is a beautiful garden with unique landscaping work. This palace is constructed of granite stones,and has been mostly used in the foundation works. Laterite stones are used in the upper part of this palace that can be seen on large cut blocks that occupy the major portion of this structure. There are fine wooden works too. One can see terracotta tiles in the red which totally cover the entire roof toops. Carved marbles and woods can be also found inside. It has one of the best and latest furniture of that time made by highly skilled carpenters. This palace contains many complexes which were specially built as theaters and auditoriums. These. It even has a wide open air ground with a large stage.
3. Thevally Palace
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If you go on a houseboat tour through the scintillating waters of the Ashtamudi Lake you will reach the majestic ‘Thevally Palace’. This Palace is located around 25 km from Kollam town. This popular heritage building was constructed during the period of 1811 to 1819 and was once the abode of the King of Travancore. When Gauri Parvati Bai was ruling this region the Thevally Palace was constructed and then it was considered to be one of the most wonderful pieces of architecture. Later on, this palace served as a place for the kings to conduct meetings with British officials. This Palace is surrounded by its lush green palm trees and coconut groves and the Ashtamudi Lake and hence it attracts a large number of tourists from different parts of the country.
The architectural style of this Palace is a blend of British, Dutch, and Portuguese styles, that reflects the erstwhile glory of the princely reign. The entire structure is made of laterite and lime plaster which gives the building a fine finishing. You will also find a temple here dedicated to Lord Sastha. The Indian Army and Public Works Department currently uses the Thevally Palace.
There is also a myth connected to the Thevally Palace. It is said that a British resident, living across the Ashtamudi Lake fell in love with a beautiful lady who lived in the Thevally Palace.And the main source of communication between them was a pet dog, who used to carry love-letters from the British resident to the lady across the lake. The dog was found dead one day. It is said the Palace still serves as a reminiscence of the faithful dog and a monument in memory of the dog is found at the Thevally Palace in Kollam
4. British Residency
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During the rule of British East India Company, a house of operation that served the British army officers and the political leaders of British origin and the British Government in India was built in Kollam during the period of 1811-1819 by Colonel Munro called the British Residency Bungalow. It was also built on the banks of the Ashtamudi lake, close to the barracks, in a large compound away from the rest of the town. The British bungalow is also known as the Residency Bungalow or the Government Guest House.
This Bungalow is a two-storied palace situated at Asramam in the town of Kollam. British Residency Bungalow is 2.0 kms away from the Chinnakada Clock Tower. This Clock was taken from Kolkata and this tower was constructed during the time of British Empire in India.The British Residency Bungalow is renowned for its unique symmetric and harmonious blend of multifarious artistic features.
The British Residency Bungalow was also built during the reign of Gowri Parvati Bayi of Travancore when Colonel John Munro was the British Resident. The architecture of the British Residency Bungalow reveals a blend of European, Tuscan, and Indian architectural mediums. The central portion of British Residency Bungalow has a rounded front, with a large rooftop decoration. There is a crown with a lion seated on it, with the motto “Dieu et Mon Droit” (God and my right) inscribed above on the top of the building. The 10 feet (3.0 m) entrance doors are completely made up of glass panes. There is an antechamber with an adjustable partition-like door while a large fanlight arching over divides the two rooms in the conference hall of the palace. The rich wooden flooring on the upper storey of the building itself stands out. The Highlight of the conference hall of British Residency Bungalow is that the cornices and dentils border the four sides have embossed designs of floral forms, urns, and festoons. The main doorway has a pattern of a large arch with an ornamental keystone resting on embossed pillars. Another major attraction of this mansion is The Edward Rose garden.
5. Bolgatty Palace
Image Courtesy: Kerala Tourism
The Bolgatty Palace is one of the oldest existing palaces in Kerala that the Dutch built in India, during the pre-British times. The Palace is situated on the Bolgatty Islands, in Cochin. Called the spice trade centre of India, Kochi was the city that dealt with traders attracting traders and seafarers from far and near. This palace was initially built as a villa by the Dutch traders in 1744. Later on they extended the villa with lush green gardens all around it and converted it into a palace.
The Bolgatty Palace served as the Dutch Governor’s residence during those days. Later, in 1909, when the palace was leased to the British, they turned it into a residence for the British governors. After India’s Independence in 1947, the Bolgatty Palace of Cochin became the property of the state and got transformed into a heritage hotel resort. Currently, the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) owns the administration of the Hotel Bolgatty Palace.
The palace has metamorphosed into an esteemed heritage hotel with its fabulous garden and surrounding backwaters of Cochin as its background. The scenery with the backwaters around the palace is simply astounding. This building has only two-storey with a huge lounge and decorated bed chambers and wherein historical portraits are displayed. Bolgatty Palace has been built on the European model. The materials used for the building were the most commonly found clay tiles, clay bricks and mount bricks, sea rocks, teak woods, etc. This building was built like a mansion to occupy for the colonial officials. There are many living rooms which were later converted into hotel suites, a swimming pool, and a golf court. There are many boat platforms built around its shore to reach here from all directions of this Island. This palace was totally built-in luxurious amenities brought from European countries. There are splendid beautifully carved works of wood in and all around the palace. It has pillared and verandahs and many pavilions built on its surroundings. You can reach the palace via road or also can take a ferry ride to reach the Bolgatty Palace located in the Bolgatty Island.
6. Mattancherry Palace
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Mattancherry Palace, also called Dutch Palace, is situated in Mattancherry, on the banks of the backwaters of Cochin,10 km away from Ernakulam city. The Marrancherry Palace displays an architectural marvel illustrating a fine mix of Kerala style and colonial 16th-century architecture. This Palace has been built in the conventional Kerala style of Nalukettu with four buildings set around a courtyard. Since the renovations and extensions at that time were all done by the Dutch this palace is also called the Dutch Palace. The Mattancherry Palace was gifted to Raja of Kochi Veera Kerala Varma by the Portuguese. There is a temple of the goddess Bhagavati in the courtyard which today stands as a famous museum where exquisite and intricately detailed ancient Kerala murals illustrating the Hindu temple art and rare collections of royal artifacts can be found. You can also find a portrait gallery of the Rajas of Kochi in Mattancherry Palace.
Apart from the different architectural styles displayed under one roof the palace demonstrates the grandeur and lifestyle of the royals in the bygone era The Portuguese constructed the Palace in 1555 or the mid-16th century and presented it as a generous gift to the King of Cochin, Raja Veera Kerala Varma. After the Dutch invasion of Cochin, in 1663 the Dutch took over the Palace and did major renovation works as well as some extensions. The Rajas that ruled further also made many renovations that gave the Palace a more Hindu texture and thus the Palace emerged as one of the most significant places that display primitive Hindu Temple Art. The Government of India in 1951 declared this Palace as a protected monument.
The Palace is a two-storied building, the upper floor of which includes a coronation hall, dining hall, bed-chamber, and a women chamber apart from the other rooms that hold the present museum. The dimensions of the chambers and the designs of the arches exhibit the European style of architecture. It has an elaborately decorated wooden dining hall. The floor of the Palace has adorned with one of the exceptional types of Kerala flooring that at a glance looks like polished black marble is in fact made of a mix of charcoal, burned coconut shells, egg whites, plant juices, and lime. Various weapons and Royal furniture of the era are also exhibited at the Mattancherry Palace.
7. Hill Palace
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
About 10 kms from Kochi in Tripunithura, is the Hill Palace. It is the largest Archaeological Museum in Kerala. It was built in the year 1865 and was the official residence of the Maharaja of Cochin and also had imperial administrative offices. Since this Palace has been built on a hill it is called the Hill Palace.This Palace too like other Palaces has a big and beautiful garden surrounding it.
The Palace complex has a total of 49 buildings in the traditional architectural style and is spread across 54 acres of land. The complex has a heritage museum, an archaeological museum, a deer park, a prehistoric park, and a children’s park. In 1980 the Cochin Royal Family handed over the palace to the Government of Kerala. Then in 1986, the palace was taken over by the Archaeological Department. The palace is also famous for being the backdrop of various movies. The most popular amongst them is the Malayalam movie to be shot here is Manichitrathazhu. The terraced land around the palace makes it a suitable place for photography as well as to relax. Growing in the garden of the Palace are numerous species of flora including rare medicinal plants. On display in the full-fledged Ethno-archaeological museum are murals, oil-paintings, sculptures in stone, inscriptions, coins, and manuscripts, belongings of the Kochi royal family, and royal furniture including the sinhasan (throne).
Antique ceramics from the Far East, various types of stones, wooden memorials, and laterite memorials from ancient civilizations like the Indus Valley and Harappa Civilization can also be found here. The Hill Palace Museum is divided into a number of galleries featuring numismatics, chariots, folklore, painting, numismatics, metalware, jewelry, etc. The highlight of the Palace is the royal crown of Kochi, the royal throne, an English silver cup, and the Old Testament on goatskin. Along with these are exhibited over 200 antique pieces of pottery and ceramic vases from Japan and China, menhirs, granite, laterite memorials,rock-cut weapons from the Stone Age, wooden temple models. A gallery of contemporary art is also found in this Palace.
8. Shakthan Thampuran Palace
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Shakthan Thampuran Palace which is also known as Vadakkechira Kovilkam was built in 1795 during the reign of the King Rama Varma Shaktan Thampuran. One of the top attractions in Thrissur today is this beautiful piece of architecture apart from other attractions.It is also the final resting place of the King Sakthan Thampuran. This Palace is located 2km from Vadakkunathan Temple in Thrissur.
The Shakthan Thampuran Palace has a simple and elegant architectural design. The Palace building has two stories and is constructed with a blend of Kerala and Dutch style of architecture. The traditional Nalukettu framework can be seen in the Palace. The spacious interiors with several rooms and tastefully decorated interiors depicts the grandeur of the Kochi Dynasty.
The Kerala State Archeology Department now preserves and maintains the Shakthan Thampuran Palace. In 2005 the Palace was revamped and converted into a museum. Therefore when you come to visit the Palace you can find coins and currencies used by the Kochi dynasty, unique granite and bronze sculptures, utensils of the royal family, and antiques belonging to the stone age and inscription plates. Shakhtan Thampuran Palace also houses a Serpent Grove (shrine for serpent gods) called Sarpakavu. The Palace also holds a Heritage Garden where many indigenous species of plants and trees can be found. For people interested in history there is also an Archaeological Garden which has the exhibits of the Stone Age which were found around Thrissur.
9. Kollengode Palace
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Thrissur being the home of several palaces including the Shakthan Thampuran Palace and the Kollengode Palace. In 1904, Vasudeva Raja, the Raja of Kollengode built the Kollengode Palace as a gift for his daughter.The palace is also called the Kollengode House. The name Kollengode is derived from the Malayalam word ‘Kollen’ blacksmith, this area was home to several blacksmiths.
The Kollengode Palace is an architectural excellence beauty, the structure, the interiors which have the combinations of the traditional Kerala Vaastu Sastra, and the elegance of the western style. Seeing its large and wide wooden windows and sloping roofs we are reminded of one of the colonial grandeur. The palace is currently a Museum of Mural Arts today was constructed during the reign of the British people and was once owned by the Kollengode royalty for years. In 1975, the Department of Archaeology took over the building and converted it into the District Heritage Museum. The Museum of Mural Arts also became a part of the palace in 2009.
10. Arakkal Palace
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Two km distance from Kannur city, is the Arakkal kettu (Arakkal Palace), in Azhikkal. This Palace was once the home of the rulers of Kannur and this Palace spreads across 2.11 hectares of land. All the rulers of Kerala had a common thing they all followed the Hindu religion except for one ruling family of that time- the Arakkal Royal family from the north Kerala. They were the only Muslim Royal family of Kerala during the reign and thus the palace by that name was the residence of the Arakkal Ali Rajas.
For at least 200 odd years The Arakkal Palace was managed by the Arakkal Family Trust. In 2005, the Department of Archaeology and Kerala Tourism took up an initiative to renovate the Palace and it was renovated and converted into a museum.
For offering prayers, the palace has an interconnected long block around a large open ground complex called Kettu. Warehouse facilities and trade-related buildings are also found around the palace. The architecture used for the construction of this Palace is laterite and wood exhibiting traits of local architecture. Then there are independent units in the Arrakkal Palace which are located around courtyards. A sacred room is also found in one of these blocks where a cot and a seating chair and a lamp is always kept lit. There are also mosques around the main palace block.
The Arrakkal Palace is also architectural excellence with the upper floor consisting of large halls with wooden floors. Double shuttered windows with colored glass panes of red or blue, providing a colorful display of light inside are found in the Arrakkal Palace. The roof of the Palace has been built with a purlin, wooden rafter, reaper, and tiles. Rafters comprise mainly bamboo and wood tied to the purlin and reapers. Fish tiles and Mangalore tiles are the two-layered roof tiles found in the Palace.
Visitors reaching the Arakkal Palace can also find a durbar hall, which now functions as a museum. Here, exhibits that throw light on the maritime activities of the Arakkal Kingdom and its monopoly on spice trade are exhibited. Items that show the Arakkal rulers’ relationship with European colonial powers are also displayed here. Some of the interesting items showcased in the museum include swords and daggers, Adhara Petti (document box); Pathayam, a bed with a chamber for storing valuables; the family seal of the Arakkal, copies of the Koran, an old-style telephone, and a telescope.
11. Krishnapuram Palace
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At Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district of Kerala is situated the Krishnapuram Palace which could be reached from the National Highway 47. Located close to the Sree Krishnaswamy Temple at Krishnapuram, this Palace has a historic significance.. According to history the kings of the Kayamkulam dynasty last stayed here in this double-storeyed Palace.
Only the main palace structure remains intact as many subsidiary units of Krishnapuram Palace got demolished. Stating the period of the palace’s construction. The Palace was said to be constructed during the period of King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1729-1758 AD). The princess of Kayamkulam’s ruling family used to stay at a place north of Kayamkulam while the men stayed at the Krishnapuram Palace, recalls the old-timers.
Currently, the Krishnapuram Palace is under the Department of Archaeology and is a protected monument. Due to its traditional Kerala style of architecture, the palace would easily catch the attention of its visitors. The architectural highlights of this palace include narrow corridors and stairways, gabled roofs, dormer windows, and low roofs, courtyard, and thick-framed doors. A mural found here, depicting the story of Gajendramoksham (salvation of elephant) is the major attraction among the sights for visitors at the Krishnapuram Palace. This exquisite piece of art is one of the largest murals in Kerala and is a fantastic blend of colors and expression and it dates back to the 18th century.
This sixteen blocks magnificent palace is also famous for its museum that holds weapons, antiques, coins, and artifacts in bronze, sculptures, megalithic remains, stone inscriptions, paintings. Apart from all these the museum also holds a Bible in the Sanskrit language.
12. Kilimanoor Palace
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The Kilimanoor Palace is located in a small town Kilimanoor, in the North West Thiruvananthapuram and is better known as the birthplace of Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906). The palace is currently a protected monument of the Kerala Government.One can feel the serenity, and the emphasized grandeur of this once royal household.
It’s a pity considering the fact that none of Ravi Verma’s original painting could be found here, at one time it was said that the artist’s paintings and those by other artists in the family such as his sister Mangala Bai Thampuratty, used to adorn every wall of the palace.
Spread over 15 acres of land the Kilimanoor Palace comprises the traditional residential structures of Kerala like the Nalukettu, small and medium-sized buildings, wells, ponds, and sacred groves. There is the main courtyard to which the entry is through a way of a proud stone archway. Then a moss-covered slippery brick path lined by an overgrown lawn leads to Ravi Varma’s studio and there is also a series of residential buildings on either side. The ‘Puthenmalika’, standing left to the studio is one of the more recent buildings in the complex, designed and built at the turn of the last century by Ravi Varma, said to be funded out of the sale of his artwork.
Much of the palace is deserted, has been boarded up, is in disrepair, or has fallen into complete ruin adjacent part is the ‘Pazhayamalika’ (said to be Ravi Varma’s living quarters), then there is the ‘Natakashala’, where Kathakali and Koodiyattam were once staged, then comes the ‘Madapally’, the great dining hall (nearby is the ‘Kochu Madapally’ where Velu Thampi Dalawa is believed to have had his last supper while fleeing from colonial forces), Deep inside the western part of the complex, by the buildings that used to be the living quarters of the women in the family.
13. Koyikkal Palace
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About 18 km from the City of Thiruvananthapuram, is found the 17th-century Koyikkal Palace built by Umayamma Rani of the Venad Royal family. It was once the official residence of the ruler of ‘Perakatharvazhi’, a branch of the royal family of the old princely state of Travancore. On the way to the hill station of Ponmudi is a double storied traditional Nalukettu building with its slanting gabled roofs and an inner courtyard. The palace noted for its traditional architectural beauty is currently under the Department of Archaeology and houses museums of Numismatics and Folklore.
The Folklore Museum at the Koyikkal Palace was set up in 1992 and is the first of its kind in Kerala. Located on the first floor of the palace, it has an interesting display of occupational implements, quaint musical instruments, household utensils, and models of folk arts. some of the exhibits like the Chandravalayam a small percussion instrument used as an accompaniment while reciting the ballad-Ramakathappattu (the story of Lord Sree Rama) and Nanthuni, a sweet-sounding musical instrument made of wood and string used while singing the Onapattu and the Nanthunippattu draws attention to the rich cultural heritage of Kerala and these two exhibits are not found in any other such museum in Kerala.
Some of the other interesting exhibits at the Folklore museum is the Maravuri (dress material made of tree bark), Chilambu, (a type of anklet), the Thaliyola (old palm-leaf manuscripts), used by Umayamma Rani. Kettuvillakku ceremonial lamp, Gajalekshmi a lamp representing the Goddess of prosperity Lakshmi, seated on her elephant; and the Oorakkukku a device for intellectual exercise used by the Yogis as a pastime, would fascinate the visitors coming over to the Koyikkal Palace. The Folklore museum also holds symbols of Kerala’s performing as well as ritual art forms. A model of the Muthappan theyyam and Patayani kolam can be found here. You can also find the headgear and dress used by Ottanthullal artists too.
An elaborate collection of ancient coins can be found at the Numismatic museum here at the Koyikkal Palace. The museum is located on the ground floor of the palace and is only one of its kinds in Kerala. Coins that are rare and have historically been valuable and that belonged to different parts of the world and represent different periods of time are displayed here. The coins displayed here show Kerala’s old flourishing trade period with nations far beyond its borders.
For people who are interested in understanding the historic aspects as well the traditional architecture of Kerala, the Koyikkal Palace is an ideal destination.